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September 2013

Did Your Ancestor Build A Grand Home in Paris?

7th arr
We are a flanneur (stroller) of Paris, like so many who love the city, often with our camera. The pictures we take grace our blog posts and you may have noted that many are of the architectural details of the exuberant Art Nouveau buildings. Those wondrous buildings were constructed mostly between two wars that were disastrous for France: the Franco-Prussian War, with the shattering Paris Commune, and the First World War. Much has been written about the French expression of the human spirit's need to fling beauty at ugliness, joy at despair in order to survive and the Art Nouveau buildings of Paris are among the most radiant examples of this.
Some of our Dear Readers have written telling of wealthy ancestors who were the builders of some of these grand edifices (Monsieur C, this is for you!) and, researching one's Parisian ancestors being such a thorny genealogical problem, we are pleased to write that we have found a spiffy little blog that can use the details of the one to further the progress of the other. A blogeur who uses the humourous title Le Mateur des Nouilles* has meticulously researched and listed thousands of construction permits, permits de construire, submitted in Paris between 1876 and 1939, in a blog simply entitled Paris 1876-1939 : Les Permits de Construire, because that is all it is. 
He explains that he considers his work to be supplementary to the "Dictionnaire par noms d'architectes des constructions élevées à Paris aux XIXe et XXe siècles - Première série, période 1876-1899", by Anne Dugast and Isabelle Parizet. He has scoured the publications "La Semaine des Constructeurs" and “Bulletin municipal officiel de la Ville de Paris” for notices of requests for permits and of construction work in progress. It has been quite a project, which he writes took him twenty years and resulted in 66,000 cards.
Each entry gives the:
  • Street address
  • Architect
  • Name of the property owner
  • Address of the property owner
  • Date of the permit request


The entries are arranged alphabetically by street name. Enter your ancestor's name in the search box to find the details of the permit request. Armed with that, you can then go to the Archives de Paris to see if there may not be a file on the project, with possibly more genealogically useful information, thence to Google Street view to see if the building constructed by your ancestor still exists. (Is no one working on a historical version of Street View? Made from old photos, prints, paintings, etc. we could have "Street View 1900" or "Street View 1700" or a sort of "Street View Through Time". Sigh; we need more lives.) Lastly, you might visit Le Mateur's other blog to see his photographs of many of the buildings. No entries have been made on either blog for some time, and we do hope that all is well.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Our pink Larousse gives for mateur a worker in metal, more specifically, one who erases the blobby line made by soldering. Reader, Monsieur M. added this comment below, which explains all, including his dislike of the style: In French slang, "mater" also means "to stare". Thus, "Le Mateur des Nouilles" can be read as "the one who stares at noodles". "Noodles", of course, being those awful and pretentious... er, those beautifully convoluted things which are typical of Parisian 1900 style ("style nouille"). 

The Centennial of the Great War


WWI Chasseur

The centennial of the beginning of la Grande Guerre, that cliff over which Western civilization threw itself, is nearly upon us and France is preparing to note it in a big way.  Nearly every Departmental Archive is planning some sort of event or exhibition. Many are also (rather late in the day, it seems to us) actively seeking personal archives, mementos and oral histories handed down by those who lived through those catastrophic years.


The Mission du Centennaire was established in 2012 (again, a bit late for that sort of thing) to coordinate events and their site lists all that is planned around the country and is updated regularly. This Mission was planning to create the one thing concerning the First World War that all French genealogists want: a central website allowing a search of all the military conscription lists, from all of the Departmental Archives. These lists and the accompanying individual military service records (as we explain in our book) give quite a lot of information, both genealogical and descriptive and are an invaluable resource. Disappointingly, as Guillaume de Morant reports, that  will not quite be. Privacy, financial and practical obstacles have proved insurmountable and, though a website will be created, it will give only links to each Departmental Archives' collection of registres matricules.

Next year looks set to be one in which many new materials of genealogical interest will be available, including photographs, military records, personal accounts, any one of which could contain a picture of or mention your ancestor.  It will be a year of cultural commemorations of a horrific war, saying "Never again". As genealogists who are digging up the dead to show to our children, so to speak, we must be sure to include the same message.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Filtering Out the Dross, Separating Out the Drones



When we were very young and wasted too much energy complaining about school work, our grandmother told us repeatedly that school work served two purposes, neither of which had much to do with education: the first was to train from an early age a future work force that would know how to complete a specific task according to instructions and by a specific time; the second was to "separate out the drones" as she put it, e.g. identify the mediocre and sub-standard so that they could be pushed to the side. As I grew older, I would howl at the horrific injustice and coldness of her generation's views. She would let me finish my piece, and then would say, dryly: "Spoken like a true drone."

It has oft been noted that there are innumerable folks, suspected drones, who are making a hash of genealogy research on the Internet by putting up the most flamboyantly faulty, if not fallacious (that was fun) of family trees. Were they to keep to their own, private world of inaccuracy, no one would mind but of course the Internet does not work that way. Their mistakes are copied and spread by others, wittingly or un, until a vast, interconnected and intercontinental forest of family trees of people who never were and never will be obscures all hope of success for the lone researcher seeking documented, sourced genealogical truth. It is happening here, in France, too. As,, and others encourage people to create online family trees, the silly fantasies abound. How to filter out the dross?

French blogger, Sophie Boudarel, has asked other bloggers to share their research methods and one, François Frémeau, has explained exactly how he wades right into the dross, hauls off anything that might be of use and starts filtering. Essentially, using only, he:

  • Makes a list of all surnames he is researching
  • Searches and finds all trees with that surname
  • Searches those trees for possible matches with his ancestors, noting all of them
  • Using the names and dates he found, starts verifying them or disproving them by seeking the civil or parish registration on the website of the appropriate Departmental Archive
  • Those that can be proved to fit into his family tree are added AND he uploads a copy of every piece of supporting documentation

Some have maintained that this is utterly cracked, for the amount of work is enormous, but Frémeau responds as only a Frenchman could with the appetising: "To be sure, this method takes time, but I do not research like a bulimic. I savour each discovery." He also gives away his game when he confesses that, for him, "the goal is to search, not to find." Most genealogists know the thrill of research but we find his shift of emphasis a bit extreme. Monsieur Frémeau writes engagingly about the discoveries he makes and he is one of the few who ensures that every detail is fully documented.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Genneocal and New Caledonian Genealogy


French Freedom of the Seas

The Territorial Archives of the French territory of Nouvelle Calédonie are leading a quiet life, but not that territory's genealogy group. Those busy bees are in the  group Genneocal, which presents itself  as having with three objectives:

  • to provide assistance to those doing genealogical research in the territory
  • to work with the Territorial Archives in the selection and preparation of documents that could be published
  • to make available these publications at no charge

The number of publications now freely available on the Internet has just passed the one hundred mark and is becoming quite an interesting collection, located on Genneocal's pages on the publishing site Calaméo. To be found there are:

  • 58  tables décennales, the ten-year indices to birth, marriage and death registrations 
  • 12 historical publications about the islands
  • 12 publications about those deported to the islands and their guards
  • The complete Biographical Dictionary of Baptisms in New Caledonia, in six installments
  • Government publications of interest
  • Some archives finding aids
  • The index to volumes 1 and 2 of Sagas Calédoniennes, a series of family histories that appeared in a local newspaper

It should be noted that almost all of these works and, if photographs be any guide, the membership of Genneocal, is exclusively for the people known as the Caldoches, those of European descent. Thus if you are researching ancestors of the indigenous population, known as Kanak, you will be out of luck. If, however, your French or German ancestors spent a generation or two in New Caledonia, Genneocal and Calaméo together could move your research along.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

"Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 8


U - Very Long climb

 Dear Myrtle's Study Group on "Mastering Genealogical Proof", which we have been following with steady perseverance, came to an end last Sunday, with the panellists' diligent applications of the Genealogical Proof Standard to the work of other genealogists to determine if they hold up. Based on some of the truly wacko lists of names masquerading as family genealogies that we have seen on the Internet, in certain lineage society applications and in some privately printed family histories, we think that learning to apply Dr. Jones's eleven questions (p. 95) to such works to be a fine, nay urgently needed, suggestion. 

How would they be applied to comparable French genealogical publications? With difficulty, as published French genealogies do not follow the same pattern. As we have discussed earlier in this series, while North American documentation prior to the twentieth century may, for a number of reasons, be not entirely reliable -- leading, in part, to the requirement for a Genealogical Proof Standard in the first place -- that is rarely the case with French documentation. (As a matter of fact, we surmise that France's historical, busy-body approach to documenting as much as possible about everyone's private life may have been the very reason some of her citizens chose to hop a boat for what was once the Land of Opportunity and Anonymity.) 

We have never seen articles concerning the genealogical proof of an ancestor's identity, such as one would find in the "National Genealogical Society Quarterly" or the "New England Historical and Genealogical Register",  in French genealogical publications because the occurrence of vague or untrustworthy documentation is so rare here. Yet, mysteries as to identity abound, in most cases because a father and possibly also a mother were not named (non dénommé) on a birth registration or because a child was born sous X, or anonymously. As the birth registration in France is the core document for all subsequent documentation about a person, this can constitute a monumental brick wall. 

With the advent of online genealogy and of websites where people post their family trees, a very small amount of chipping away at this type of brick wall is beginning. People descended from someone born fully or partially anonymously are putting their guesses, reasonings, suppositions about the unnamed parents into their online trees. These, we think, are one of the few types of French genealogical works that could be submitted to examination according to the Genealogical Proof Standards with useful results.

By way of example: we have been researching for some years a well-documented Parisian family - Jean-François Robert, his wife, Catherine Caroline Debanne, and their three sons --  and have explored a number of its generations. We felt ourself to be something of an expert on this family (ah, hubris) when lo, one day we were informed of a genealogy online which claimed that an ancestress, Caroline Martin, whose father was not named on her birth registration, was a daughter of the family we were studying. Briefly, the reasons for the claim were:

  1. "There is no document to show that Jean-François Robert (1763-1844) may have been the father of Caroline Martin (1825-1900), wife of Victor Gassaud (1818-1868).
  2. A hand-drawn genealogical chart -- now lost -- on which appeared, beside the legitimate spouse of Jean-François Robert, Catherine Caroline Debanne, and her sons, Catherine Martin, mother of Caroline.
  3. Papa told me often that little Caroline was reared with the Robert boys.
  4. When Caroline married Victor Gassaud in 1846, she had a large dowry. Her marriage contract specified that she had a trousseau, furniture and silver, valued at 2600 francs, 30 Belgian annuities of 50 francs, ....all "given by hand". They could only have come from her natural father. 
  5. Jean-François Robert's  grandson was a witness, identified as a nephew, on the death registration of Caroline Martin, and at the marriage of her grandson, Henri.
  6. In turn, Caroline's grandson Henri, identified as a cousin, was a witness on the death registration of the grandson of Jean-François Robert.
  7. As late as the 1920s, members of the Robert family were included in the list of bereaved on the funeral announcements of the Gassaud family."

 The descendant of Caroline, who gave the points we quote above did indeed have a clear research question and did cite her sources -- birth, marriage and death registrations all of which could be verified. Without question her search was exhaustive and her sources, which included notarial records in addition to the civil registrations, were excellent. Her claims based on family lore -- that there was a hand-written genealogy and that "little Caroline was reared with the Robert boys" -- could not be verified, (though it could be noted that the youngest Robert boy was nine when Caroline was born and the first Robert grandchild was born when she was nineteen, making it unlikely that she was a playmate of any of them). Nor could it be verified that the large dowry given "by hand" to Caroline, who married two years after the death of Jean-François Robert, came from him. Additionally, the descendant showed how the relationships in nos. 5 and 6 above would indeed be true were Caroline to have been the daughter of Jean-François Robert.

The descendant's conclusion is  not claimed to be more than a strong suspicion. It is obvious to all that, if Caroline were his daughter, Jean-François was scrupulous in ensuring that no document with their two names should ever exist: he is not named on her birth, marriage or death registration; he is not named in her marriage contract; she is not named in his will or in the estate inventory after his death. The descendant is clearly aware that her only hope of proof would be through DNA testing with known descendants of Jean-François Robert. Her case, however, is very well made and using the GPS (albeit loosely, to allow for the many cultural differences) to examine it makes that clearer. 

It was a good study group and many thanks to Dear Myrtle for organising and presenting it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy